Thursday, October 23, 2008

Travel Changes Everything

I recently read this on the cover of a travel magazine and it seemed to sum up our trip perfectly. It reminded me of a Mark Twain quote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Sometimes we have prejudices or stereotypes that we don't even realize until they are proven wrong. This is how we felt about several aspects of our trip, but especially Detroit. We just read an article in the newspaper called, "A Wish for Detroit." The first sentence of the article said, "Detroit has been called the most miserable city in the country, we beg to differ." I had a preconceived notion of Detroit that included words like dangerous, ghetto, concrete block, and basically the last place I'd ever want to live. After our visit, my list of adjectives are drastically different.

We arrived in Ann Arbor, MI on Sept 27, just in time to catch the last quarter of the Michigan-Wisconsin football game! This adorable little college town was a flurry of blue and gold, despite the fact that Michigan was woefully behind. Our friends and hosts for the weekend, Bob and Ronda Adgate, were able to wrangle one ticket for the game and Bob convinced the ticket master to let us catch the final 10 minutes or so of the game. We had just walked through the gate when an interception turned the game around resulting in the greatest comeback Michigan has ever had at "The Big House." This exciting game kicked off our weekend and earned us the label of "football angels."

After the exhilarating game, the Adgates gave us a tour of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus. The Adgates proved to be some of the most fun and gracious hosts we have ever been around. We instantly formed deep friendships with them that we know will continue for years to come.

Our time in Ann Arbor included lots of food, laughter, touring, late night talks and even a little tailgating after the Michigan game (we even met a Canadian man who insisted we come to all the Michigan games, eh!) From rooftop Italian dining to a feast of Middle Eastern food, the Adgates thoroughly spoiled us.

The next evening, we headed into Detroit for our first exposure to the inner-city. We went to a Middle Eastern neighborhood and I was surprised to learn that Detroit has over 300,000 inhabitants from the Middle East. All the restaurants and signs were in Arabic. We were there during Ramadan and once the sun went down, the town was a flurry of activity. The Adgates took us to a wonderful bakery where we had fresh baklava. I didn't even know there were that many different varieties!

As we drove farther into the heart of the city, I was shocked at how much the atmosphere changed. The Middle Eastern community was full of life and activity, but there was little life to be seen elsewhere. We drove about four blocks before I saw anyone on the sidewalk. The restaurants we drove by had a small handful of people in them. I felt like I had culture shock every time we went into or left Detroit.

Bob told us at one point Detroit had a population of over 2 million and today it's around 900,000. Political and economical challenges have driven people out of the city and into the suburbs and poor education systems and high property taxes in Detroit keep them there. When the middle and upper classes left the city, so did the banks, grocery stores and the majority of churches.

My list of adjectives for Detroit now included hopeless, lifeless, devastated and destitute.

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